Singapore (1960)

Singapore

Singapore may not be one of Shakti Samanta’s best films, given the gaping plot holes and rather slow start, but his first film with Shammi Kapoor still entertains with plenty of good songs and a competent support cast. Like many of Samanta’s early films, Singapore is a mystery thriller with the usual assortment of criminals willing to kidnap and murder to get away with their loot. Where it falls down is in trying to spin together too many threads with the underlying story rather lost beneath the extra flourishes. The additions also defuse much of the tension, which isn’t helped by a distinct lack of chemistry between Shammi and his co-star, with the result that the film initially feels rather flat. However Shammi’s uncharacteristic restraint doesn’t last for too long and there is plenty of his trademark craziness to liven up the final scenes.  Add in a dash of Helen, Shashikala and Padmini, the gorgeous Maria Menada and the exotic locale, and Singapore is worth at least a one-time watch.

The film opens with Ramesh (Gautam Mukherjee) and his girlfriend Shoba (Shashikala) meeting in a club in Singapore. As Shoba happily learns that Ramesh plans to stay in Singapore, their conversation is being closely followed by local gangsters Chang (Madan Puri) and Kapoor (Rajan Kapoor) at a nearby table. Also listening in, by way of a hidden microphone in the lamp is Shoba’s uncle Shivadas (K.N. Singh), but despite all this effort the only information Ramesh gives out is that he has found a treasure map and as a result won’t go ahead with the sale of his boss’s rubber plantation. That boss is Shyam (Shammi Kapoor) and later that night Ramesh finally manages to contact him by phone. However his conversation is interrupted by two shady characters that kidnap Ramesh, although they don’t manage to get their hands on the treasure map. Left to wonder what has happened to his friend, Shyam boards the next plane to Singapore, and the hunt is on!

Samanta does seem to delight in giving his characters rather ridiculous names, and Shyam is met at the airport by his company secretary Cha Choo (Agha) and in the office by the typist Chin Chin Choo (Lilian), which at least does invoke memories of Howrah Bridge. Shyam also meets Lata (Padmini) and initially confuses her with Shoba since he has been told that Ramesh’s girlfriend dances at the New India Club and naturally assumes that the dancer she sees is Shoba.  I’m not sure what the point of the confusion is, other than as an introduction to the family and as a way to ensure Padmini gets to dance. However it’s worth the convoluted storyline as Padmini does look absolutely gorgeous here and really shines when she is dancing.

While in Singapore, Shyam is also pursued by the beautiful Maria (Maria Menada) who met him on the flight from India. Maria seems overly interested in Shyam’s affairs, and since it’s revealed almost from the start that she is involved in the plot to steal the treasure I expected a little more from their relationship. However mostly this is just another complicating plot thread that has a lot of potential that is never fully realised, although Maria Menada is excellent as a villainess.

There has to be a love story of course, and Shyam and Lata fall for each other on their first meeting. There isn’t great chemistry between Padmini and Shammi, but they do have a couple of good songs together where there seems more empathy and at least they seem to be enjoying themselves. I love this one where they dance through a number of shops before Padmini pushes the dancers into the pool at the end, seeming totally delighted as each one drops into the water while Shammi prances along behind her. Oh My indeed!

Meanwhile, Shyam is still trying to find Ramesh and uses the tape recording of their last phone conversation to track down a musical cigarette case which may have the answer. This part of the plot is perfect – naturally Ramesh records all his phone calls, and why wouldn’t a cigarette case in the shape of a Vat 69 bottle also be musical – but once Shyam finds the map things start to get unnecessarily complicated. This slows down the action and the film starts to drag while various embellishments are added to the plot.

Shyam uses the map as bait to try to lure out the kidnappers, and in the ensuing chase has to hide out from some of the gang in a village. Obviously he has to escape their notice and what better way to remain inconspicuous than to dance and sing with Helen? Naturally this is the best way to escape detection!

Shoba is kidnapped too and there is a convoluted thread involving Shivadas who may or may not be dead, although it doesn’t really seem to matter in the end.  Eventually Shyam infiltrates the gang as an assassin from Kabul, which gives Shammi licence to unleash the crazy and the pace of the film finally picks up. I wish the energy in the last scenes could have been present for the whole film, but at least  the film ends on a suitably chaotic note with the inconsistencies in the plot swiftly swept aside to concentrate on the final action sequences.

The main reason to watch Singapore is of course Shammi, who looks fantastic throughout whether he’s romancing Lata, cavorting around the dance floor in disguise or fighting off numerous villains as required. His Shyam is suave and sophisticated, romancing the ladies while out and about in Singapore and easily charming Lata on one hand while elegantly turning down Maria on the other. At least until his disguise kicks in, when he becomes totally OTT Shammi and revels in his persona as a gun for hire. My favourite kind of Shammi!

The support cast are all solid, despite the erratic storyline and gaping plot holes, and Agha is impressively competent as Shyam’s sidekick.  I can’t remember noticing him much in other films of the era, but here he provides some gentle comedy without disrupting the flow or resorting to slapstick. Padmini looks gorgeous and at least has a couple of good dance numbers even though disappointingly her character has very little to do in the second half. Although Singapore isn’t a film I will watch over and over again like Chinatown, I do like the songs from Shankar-Jaikishan, particularly those included here along with Tum Lakh Chhoopana Chahoge, Tu Kahan Kho Gaya and Dhoka Khayegi Na Yaron Ki Nazar for some classic Shammi dance-floor magic. As I said at the start, not one of Samanta or Shammi’s best films, but there is still enough to enjoy to make Singapore worth a watch. 3 stars.

Advertisements

China Town (1962)

Chinatown

Shakti Samanta is responsible for many of my favourite Hindi films, and China Town is another one to add to the list. Not only does it have Shammi Kapoor in a double role, but as an added bonus Helen appears as one of the two heroines, and she dances in two songs – awesome! Shakti Samanta heads to Calcutta and the seedy opium dens of Chinatown to deliver a crime drama with plenty of masala seasoning. It’s the story of a gangster whose buffoonish lookalike becomes involved in a police plot to uncover the shadowy figure behind the Chinatown drug trade. If that sounds familiar, Salim-Javed were supposedly inspired by China Town when they came up with the plot for Don and the set-up is certainly very similar. However there are fewer twists and a lower body count in China Town, and the end is quite different. This has fewer noir elements than Samanta’s earlier Howrah Bridge but it does edge into the genre, and even though the outcome is fairly predictable, the journey to get there is well worth taking.

The film opens with the title track and features Helen in a wonderful dress covered with dragons. Chinatown gangster Mike (Shammi Kapoor) is introduced in the bath (!) and has a wonderful laconic style as he explains that the world will order itself to accommodate Mike, not the other way around. With such ishtyle, it’s not really surprising then that dancer Suzi (Helen) is in love with Mike, despite the callous treatment she receives at his hands.

Mike works for Mr Wong (Madan Puri), the owner of a hotel in Chinatown that acts as the front for a number of criminal activities, but chiefly the gang run an opium den and deal in drugs. Mike is spotted making his dodgy deals by the indomitable Inspector Dutta (Kanu Roy) and in the course of the ensuing car chase Mike is hurt and brought back to the police station by Inspector Dutta. However Mike proves to be a tough nut to crack and none of Inspector Dutta’s interrogation techniques manage to force him to reveal the other members of the gang, or who is controlling their activities. Fortuitously for Inspector Dutta, Rai Bahadur Digamberprasad Rai (S.N. Bannerjee) comes to the police station to make a complaint about bar singer Shekhar (Shammi Kapoor) who has followed his daughter Rita (Shakila) to Calcutta. Shekhar just happens to be the spitting image of Mike, and Inspector Dutta sees a way to infiltrate the gang, if he can get Shekhar to impersonate Mike.

Shekhar is the antitheses of Mike. He lives with his mother (Jeevan Kala) in Calcutta and spends his time singing, chasing after Rita and avoiding her father who is less than impressed with Shekhar. Shekhar is carefree and careless, and Shammi is excellent as the crazy and impulsive singer who will do anything for love.  Here he is serenading Rita, who doesn’t seem too impressed by his moves here at all!

Rai Bahadur on the other hand will do almost anything to keep Shekar away from his daughter, and when you consider Shekar’s antics as he dresses up as a Sadhu to follow Rita on the journey to Calcutta it’s hard to disagree when Rai Bahadur calls him a cartoon.

Despite his somewhat frivolous nature, Shekhar allows himself to be persuaded to work for the police, and undergoes extensive training to impersonate Mike. He successfully infiltrates the gang and starts to pass information back to Inspector Dutta, but before he can find out who’s the boss behind the scenes, Shekhar’s mother arrives in town. She soon reveals that it’s not a coincidence that Shekhar looks like Mike, and soon my favourite Bollywood plot device of separated twins gets thrown into the mix. So now all Shekhar has to do is stop Rita from marrying Mr Chaudhary, convince Rai Bahadur that he is a suitable person to marry his daughter, find the head of the drug smuggling gang and save his long lost brother – no worries!

Although Shekhar fools the gang, he can’t hide his musical soul and when out delivering drugs he dances and sings along to this wonderful mujra. I love the way Shammi can’t sit still and gyrates away in the background before finally joining in with Roshan Ara.

Along with the action, as Shekhar fools Mr Wong and one by one delivers the gang members up to the police, naturally there is time for some romance. Rai Bahadur seems a very liberal father, except where Shekhar is concerned and Rita manages to meet up with Shekhar and hit the tourist spots of Calcutta. They make a lovely couple, and Shakila looks beautiful here in a couple of sweet duets. The romance is rather cute too – as in one scene where Shekhar and Rita take refuge in a hotel and pretend to be married. The owner’s wife Mahakali (a brief appearance by Tun Tun) adds a vermillion tikka which Rita then doesn’t want Shekhar to rub off later despite all her protests about the deception. Very sweet! Rita is also feisty and quite prepared to fight back when she is kidnapped by the gang, which makes her a likeable heroine and more of a partner to Shekhar.

Suzi is quite prepared to fight for her man too, and Helen is fantastic in a role that gives her the opportunity to do more than dance. However she also looks stunningly gorgeous in this song where she dances with an intoxicated Shekhar.

The location allows Samanta to use the Calcutta backdrop and Howrah Bridge to good effect, particularly in the last fight scene. Dwarka Divecha does an excellent job with the cinematography and as in previous Samanta films there is good use of light and shade to heighten the drama. The Blue Dragon hotel has plenty of hidden doorways behind fake walls and bookcases, and there is even an escape route through the sewers to add to the ambiance.

The support cast all fit their roles well; Madan Puri reprises the role of a Chinese hotel owner while M.B. Shetty is expressive as Ching Lee, one of the gang who suspects Shekhar is not really Mike. But despite good performances from all the cast, China Town is all about Shammi Kapoor, and his performance here is the reason to watch the film.

I just adore Shammi in this film. He looks fabulous and seems to relish the contrast between his two roles, keeping the two personalities quite separate throughout. Shammi even looks very different as Mike and he plays the part of a brutish and rough gangster easily without hamming it up for the camera. As Shekhar he is buffoonish but good-natured, and although he does become more sensible when working for the police, he manages to make this seem like an act and every so often reverts back to true form with some classic Shammi craziness. When there are two Shammi’s onscreen it’s just wonderful, even if the technology isn’t quite able to make the effect completely seamless. Shammi is wonderful to watch, so even if the story does become a little predictable and the ending is annoyingly contrived, it really doesn’t matter when Shammi is this good – twice over! Recommended for Helen, Shakila, good songs and shady ambiance, but overall watch this for Shammi – he’s amazing! 4 stars from me – and I’ll give the last word to Helen, because I think this is exactly what she does.

Helen!

Shikari (1963)

I like to be entertained by films, whether they’re thrilling, provocative, dramatic, poignant or purely for fun. Just don’t bore me. Shikari may not be a work of genius but it is wildly entertaining – garishly colourful with a cast committed to ignoring the WTFery, packed to the brim with visual delights, lots of good dancing and a pleasing array of ‘special’ effects.

Mr Kapoor (Bir Sakhuja) owns a circus that is on the brink of financial ruin. They simply cannot compete with ice skating chimps and Russian Ballet on ice.

His business partner Jagdish (Madan Puri) suggests they go and capture King Kong, thus ensuring their financial success. It’s a simple plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Jagdish, Kapoor and his daughter Rita (Ragini) are joined by comedy Professor Sharma and Chandu the clown. After a pit stop at the Malabar Hotel which allowed for a dance item by Madhumati and Rani, they head off in search of a guide called Ajit so he can take them in search of Otango.

 

Taking a range of increasingly smaller boats, which did flag a logistical problem in the event they caught the giant ape, the plucky and garishly dressed group make their way into the jungle.

Rita falls out of the bucket in which she is crossing a river and swims away determinedly is swept away from her father and crew. She lands in what appears to be a private zoo with a small but geographically diverse collection. Surviving a river misadventure only to be swept into the jaws of a cranky tiger. Poor Rita! But not for long.

Love blooms between Rita and her rescuer, timber plantation owner, hunter and all round bloke’s bloke Ajit (Ajit). Unfortunately that leads to excessive romantic dueting on mountains, near waterfalls and the like. For whatever reason, Ajit’s high pants and gumboots don’t say ‘soul of romance’ to me. Ragini is lots of fun as Rita and despite a tendency to simper she usually seems to be the most competent of the town folk.

Let them be happy while they can. We’re still in search of King Kong! Thanks to the jungle drums everyone finds everyone else and off they go.

They meet friendly villagers who make Rita dance in a fabulously eclectic tribal kitsch setting.

They get caught up in a fight with brightly painted tribal folk who accessorise with fluffy arm bands and feathers.

The preferred fighting style of almost everyone, Rita included, is ‘hit them with a stick’ so the dishoom sound effect department were working overtime.

Apart from that, they do a lot of walking around pointing at things.

Finally, while crossing a river of lurid pink lava they see Otango. Rita is startled and falls, dangling perilously close to the molten lava.

Luckily Ajit is there to save her again. I really do think she has a subconscious death wish. She certainly looks horrified after being rescued, but that may be because she has caught sight of her pants.

Just because you work in a circus … Rita packed an impressive wardrobe for a giant gorilla hunting expedition.

Finally, they are taken into the compound of DR CYCLOPS!

His lair includes a well appointed lab and series of caves. Dr Cyclops (KN Singh) was a reputable scientist who faked his own death so he could continue working on his dubious experiments.

The film loosely combines King Kong with the Island of Dr Moreau, even including some philosophical conversation about the role of science in bettering humanity. But do not fear – it doesn’t stay sensible for long. How could anyone think deep thoughts when the decor includes a pathway framed in giant ribs and mushrooms, a man/gorilla experiment, a giant lizard (man in dodgy plastic suit) and so much more!

HELEN!

Helen is Dr Cyclops’ daughter Shoba. She is a nice girl, given to over accessorising in lieu of having anything like a life. She knows her father is bad news and is a bit sweet on Ajit so decides to help the hunting party escape. I always like seeing Helen with more than just an item to explain her presence in a film. Rita misinterprets the nature of the affection between Shoba and Ajit so does a bit of flouncing. It was all rather silly except that in her angsty concussed state she dreamt up this fantastic dance off with Helen!

Jagdish wants the money and Otango and nothing less will do. Dr Cyclops, an expert biologist, has recognised that he has certain wants of his own and decides to marry Rita. He and Jagdish collude to achieve their goals and foil the group’s escape attempt.

Rita in approved heroine style insists she would rather die. Dr Cyclops has anticipated this and will not kill Rita – opting to either shrink her father to a mere 6 inches tall (demonstrated in a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ scene) or throw him into the snake pit. It is a very well appointed lab!

Despite all the good guys being tied up and all the baddies being free to roam, you know it’s only a matter of time. Shoba distracts Jagdish as only Helen can, and Ajit frees the captives. They set off to stop the forced wedding and encounter those pesky painted tribals again. Is it just me, or does Ajit look a bit bored by the whole situation?

But just as the comedy sideplot dudes finally do something useful, Otango arrives to do his jerky zombie shuffle of destruction.

Can it be the end? Don’t be ridiculous! But do watch the movie to find out how, what and who. I will just say – karma has some big gnarly toes. Know what I mean?

Mohammed Hussain directed the screenplay by Vrajendra Gaur and the film rattles along in a joyful parade of crazy. GS Kohli’s dance songs are lovely and the picturisations made excellent use of Helen and Ragini. It is the perfect B movie – low budget, committed to entertainment and not too fussed about the details. 4 stars for fun, entertainment, and colour and movement!

Download it with subs via Memsaab Story or watch the unsubtitled version on Youtube.